Steven Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker

Steven
Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker
1954

Canadian-born U.S. Experimental Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist, Linguist, and Popular Science Author, Psychology Professor at Harvard University

Author Quotes

Third, don?t confuse an anecdote or a personal experience with the state of the world. Just because something happened to you, or you read about it in the paper or on the Internet this morning, it doesn?t mean it is a trend. In a world of seven billion people, just about anything will happen to someone somewhere, and it?s the highly unusual events that will be selected for the news or passed along to friends. An event is a significant phenomenon only if it happens some appreciable number of times relative to the opportunities for it to occur, and it is a trend only if that proportion has been shown to change over time.

There is, in fact, no incompatibility between the principles of feminism and the possibility that men and women are not psychologically identical.

There's a common criticism of evolutionary psychology that it's fatalistic and it dooms us to eternal strife, 'Why even try to work toward peace if we're just bloody killer apes and violence is in our genes?'

There is a correlation between economic inequality and personal violence. The explanation for the correlation isn't completely clear; there are a number of possibilities.

There is an optimum rate of discounting the future?mathematically, an optimum interest rate?which depends on how long you expect to live, how likely you will get back what you saved, how long you can stretch out the value of a resource, and how much you would enjoy it at different points in your life (for example, when you?re vigorous or frail). Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die is a completely rational allocation if we are sure we are going to die tomorrow. What is not rational is to eat and drink as if there?s no tomorrow when there really is a tomorrow. To be overly self-indulgent, to lack self-control, is to devalue our future selves too much, or equivalently, to demand too high an interest rate before we deprive our current selves for the benefit of our future selves. No plausible interest rate would make the pleasure in smoking for a twenty-year-old self outweigh the pain of cancer for her fifty-year-old self.

There is no society ever discovered in the remotest corner of the world that has not had something that we would consider the arts. Visual arts - decoration of surfaces and bodies - appears to be a human universal.

There is nothing inherently irrational about preferring pleasure now to pleasure later. After all, the You on Tuesday is no less worthy of a chocolate bar than the You on Wednesday. On the contrary, the You on Tuesday is more worthy. If the chocolate bar is big enough, it might tide you over, so eating it on Tuesday means that neither You is hungry, whereas saving it for Wednesday consigns you to hunger on Tuesday. Also, if you abstain from chocolate on Tuesday, you might die before you wake, in which case neither the Tuesday You nor the Wednesday You gets to enjoy it. Finally, if you put the chocolate away, it might spoil or be stolen, again depriving both Yous of the pleasure. All things being equal, it pays to enjoy things now.

The universality of reason is a momentous realization, because it defines a place for morality. If I appeal to you do do something that affects me?to get off my foot, or not to stab me for the fun of it, or to save my child from drowning?then I can't do it in a way that privileges my interests of yours if I want you to take me seriously (say, by retaining my right to stand on your foot, or to stab you, or to let your children drown). I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can't act as if my interests are special just because I'm me and you're not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it. You and I ought to reach this moral understanding not just so we can have a logically consistent conversation but because mutual unselfishness is the only way we can simultaneously pursue our interests. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other's children when they get into trouble, and refrain from knifing each other than we would be if we hoarded our surpluses while they rotted, let each other's children drown, and feuded incessantly. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we'd both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one where we both are unselfish. Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.

The very concept of imitation is suspect to begin with (if children are general imitators, why don?t they imitate their parents? habit of sitting quietly in airplanes?),

The very terms split infinitive and split verb are based on a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split a verb because it consists of a single word, such as amare, to love. But in English, the so-called infinitive to write consists of two words, not one: the subordinator to and the plain form of the verb write, which can also appear without to in constructions such as She helped him pack and You must be brave.23 Similarly, the allegedly unsplittable verb will execute is not a verb at all but two verbs, the auxiliary verb will and the main verb execute. There is not the slightest reason to interdict an adverb from the position before the main verb, and great writers in English have placed it there for centuries.

The violence of men, though, is modulated by a slider: they can allocate their energy along a continuum from competing with other men for access to women to wooing the women themselves and investing in their children, a continuum that biologists sometimes call cads versus dads.103 In a social ecosystem populated mainly by men, the optimal allocation for an individual man is at the cad end, because attaining alpha status is necessary to beat away the competition and a prerequisite to getting within wooing distance of the scarce women.

The way to understand how different species evolved is to think about the niches that they fill in an ecosystem - basically, how they make a living.

The word 'glamour' comes from the word 'grammar', and since the Chomskyan revolution the etymology has been fitting. Who could not be dazzled by the creative power of the mental grammar, by its ability to convey an infinite number of thoughts with a finite set of rules?

The world has far too much morality, at least in the sense of activity of people's moral instincts. If you look, and this become clear to me as I tried to identify the causes of violence at various scales throughout human history, from police blotters where the biggest motive for homicide is not just amoral predacious: a smuggler killing someone to steal his Rolex, the biggest categories of motives for homicide are moralistic in the eyes of the perpetrator, of the murderer, is capital punishment: killing someone who deserve to die because: whether is a spouse who's unfaithful or someone who distim him in an argument over a parking space or cheated him in a deal. That's why people kill each other: for moral reasons. That is true as large scales as well.If you'll look up at the largest episodes of bloodletting in human history most of them would have moralistic motives: the nazi Holocaust, Pol Pot, Stalin, the Gulag, Mao, the European war of religions, the Crusades, all of them were killing people for, not because they wanted to accumulate vast amounts of money, or huge harems of women, but because they thought they were acting out of a moral cause.

The world has far too much morality.

There are a number of things that make particular ideologies dangerous. One of them is the prospect of a utopia: since utopias are infinitely good forever, and can justify any amount of violence to pursue that utopia, the costs are still outweighed by the benefits. Utopias also tend to demonise certain people as obstacles to a perfect world, whoever they are: the ruling classes, the bourgeois, the Jews or the infidels and heretics. As long as your ideology identifies the main source of the world's ills as a definable group, it opens the world up to genocide.

There are many reasons to believe that violence in humans is not literally a sickness or poisoning but part of our design.

There certainly is a phenomenon that needs to be explained, namely religious beliefs. According to surveys by ethnographers, religion is a human universal. In all human cultures, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that ritual can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by a variety of invisible person-like entities: spirits, ghosts, saints, evils, demons, cherubim or Jesus, devils and gods.

There has to be innate circuitry that does the learning, that creates the culture, that acquires the culture, and that responds to socialization.

The truth doesn't care about our hopes, and sometimes it can force us to revisit those hopes in a liberating way.

The typical imperative from biology is not Thou shalt... , but If ... then ... else.

The unification of our understanding of life with our understanding of matter and energy was the greatest scientific achievement of the second half of the twentieth century.

The universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle. But many adaptationist explanations for religion, such as the one featured in Time last week, don't, I think, meet the criteria for adaptations. There is an alternative explanation, namely that religious psychology is a by-product of many parts of the mind that evolved for other purposes. Among those purposes one has to distinguish the benefits to the producer and the benefits to the consumer. Religion has obvious practical effects for producers. When it comes to the consumers, there are possible emotional adaptations in our desire for health, love and success, possible cognitive adaptations in our intuitive psychology, and many aspects of our experience that seem to provide evidence for souls. Put these together and you get an appeal to a mysterious world of souls to bring about our fondest wishes.

The slate cannot be blank if different genes can make it more or less smart, articulate, adventurous, shy, happy, conscientious, neurotic, open, introverted, giggly, spatially challenged, or likely to dip buttered toast in coffee.

The stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. Toddlers spontaneously offer toys and help to others and try to comfort people they see in distress.

Author Picture
First Name
Steven
Last Name
Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker
Birth Date
1954
Bio

Canadian-born U.S. Experimental Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist, Linguist, and Popular Science Author, Psychology Professor at Harvard University